The Connor Brothers' have made waves in the contemporary art market, causing a mix of controversy & acclaim along the way. So what should a potential collector know about the artists? And is their work a good investment? Read on for our overview of their work...
The Connor Brothers emerged at the centre of the Contemporary art scene in 2013, shrouded in mystery and surrounded by gossip. The brothers, known for their paintings and prints of Pulp-fiction style figures adorned with cheeky quips, had never been seen in person, and had a backstory straight from a Hollywood feature film. Raised in a luddite American cult known simply as ‘The Family’, the twins — Franklyn and Brendan Connor — had supposedly fled to Brooklyn at just sixteen, turning to art in order to explore the world they had long been sheltered from, with the creation process ostensibly a crucial part of their healing process.
The story, while buzz-creating, was entirely false. The real Connor Brothers are neither brothers, nor American, and certainly not cult escapees. Rather, the print-making duo were later revealed to be Mike Snelle and James Golding, former East London art dealers who invented the backstory as a way to protect themselves—and their past struggles with drug abuse and mental health troubles—from public exposure. The two finally confessed their true names in a 2014 interview with the Telegraph, after their work began to sell for thousands at some of the biggest auction houses in the game.
Despite the dismantling of the mystique that had garnered them so much art world attention in the first place, The Connor Brothers’ popularity only increased after their reveal, with their now public-facing identities allowing them to take on more and more ambitious projects.
These include both artistic and altruistic endeavours, with the duo teaming up with Russian activist group Pussy Riot to address Europe’s refugee crisis through a theatrical performance at Banksy’s 2015 Dismaland, as well as with Professor Green and mental health charity CALM to raise awareness around male depression and suicide.
Whilst facing some criticism for their blatant appropriation of other artists’ work in their pulp fiction cover collages, the Connor Brothers remain a mainstay on the Contemporary art scene, garnering more bidders at auction than David Hockney, Keith Haring and Mr. Brainwash according to a 2020 report.
In this article we will take a look at The Connor Brothers’ artistic evolution, as well as analysing the value of their prints as a long term investment.
The Connor Brothers are best known for their paintings and prints of vintage pin-up style portraits, often picturing women seductively dressed and posed against colourful backgrounds, accompanied by pithy captions.
Like their fictional personas, The Connor Brothers’ art spins a story, flirting with the borders of fact and fabrication. Recent work focuses on contemporary issues such as social media and misinformation—by their own description, aiming to challenge viewers to question their biases through figurative imagery and dry humour.
“It is the paradox of art that artifice is often the best way to depict reality,” explained Snelle, “fiction the best way to challenge conventional ideas of what we think of as ‘the truth’.”
The Connor Brothers have maintained their sharp humour and preoccupation with the contradictions of the digital age throughout their joint career.
Here is a brief look at the various iterations of their work throughout the past decade.
Snelle and Golding’s first show was confusingly not under their now famous pseudonym, but attributed to yet another fictional character—a doctor monikered Victor Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder was, according to the constructed narrative, a reclusive GP in a German village who had, in his mid-20s, suffered a nervous breakdown catalysed by the death of a nine-year-old girl he had misdiagnosed. His memento mori—glass boxes of arranged skulls, clocks and butterflies, common symbols of mortality in traditional vanitas paintings, as well as hypodermic syringes—thus the story went, served as the method by which he reconciled himself with his own mortality.
Some of the Connor Brothers’ first pieces under their own name were their subversions of famous works of literature—colour-blocked edits of the covers of classic works by the likes of Shakespeare and Austen that made satirical or politically charged statements.
A Load of Fuss About Fuck All, a play on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, is one such piece, a reworking of a Penguins Classics cover available in a range of primary colours. Like the Fire Needs Air I Won’t Burn Unless You’re There is another example—featuring a quote from 50 Cent’s 2005 song Hustler’s Ambition.
In the more political realm, the Connor Brothers’ recent Pride in Prejudice makes subtle edits to Austen’s classic, assigning author credit to Donald Trump, whilst similar piece The Idiot is ascribed to Vladimir Putin.
The Connor Brothers’ playful pin-up pieces are by far their most well-known, circumventions of traditional pulp fiction cover art through the addition of self-aware and satirical quotes and clichés from well-known poets, cynics and comedians.
The pieces take images from dime novels of the 1940s and 50s—of vintage beauties, old Hollywood damsels in distress, and dishevelled heroes—and juxtapose them against witty or surprising captions such as ‘I drink to make people more interesting’, ‘I sometimes think that god, in creating men, somewhat overestimated his ability’, and ‘I tried to drown my sorrows but the bastards learned how to swim’.
“With Pulp Fiction,” explained Snelle and Golding, “the actual content of the novels is bleak, and for us, it was a nice idea to try and recontextualise it; to make it more relevant to our times and to make something positive out of something quite negative”.
The collection’s popularity is evidenced by the fact that, when Idris Elba married Sabrina Dhowre in 2019, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gifted the new couple a piece from it–captioned, ‘why fit in when you were born to stand out?’
True Fiction, the Brothers’ second collection, mirrors the style and layout of Pulp Fiction, but with a particularly 21st century feel. The artist duo worked directly with models, rather than found materials, to create the collection—allowing for a more diverse selection of subjects and poses.
The Connor Brothers’ Redaction series featured, as the title implies, a series of redacted letters. Taking supposed correspondence between prominent British and American politicians, as well as members of the public, the Brothers censored blocks of text, leaving a series of words that revealed a new, generally comical, sentence.
One such letter from US President George Bush to PM Tony Blair was redacted so as to read “made…error…pressed…Q…instead of…N…my…bad”. Another letter from PM David Cameron addressed to MP George Osbourne contains the simple message “f Uck…the poor”.
Continuing to play on popular imagery from the mid-20th century, pieces from The Connor Brothers’ first solo exhibition, True Love Stories, satirise modern romance through playful captioning and collage work.
This collection pokes fun at the cheap and soapy romance paperbacks of the 1950s, as well as highlighting the misogyny that typically ran through them, collaging speech bubbles and description boxes over the pulp-y covers of Mills & Boon novels to distort and transform the original narrative. The resultant collection is both humorous and disturbing, depicting classic femme fatales as either deeply cynical or deeply bored, whilst their male companions either pine or shamelessly attempt to seduce them.
‘Dammit Tiffany I love you! Just tell me what you want…’ reads one caption, overlaying a glamorous sketch of a brooding, square jawed man in a white suit. ‘A thousand bucks now…Then a hundred a week’ responds the well-coiffed woman, draped seemingly adoringly over his shoulders.
The Connor Brothers’ Bastardised series proved slightly less original than their other works, featuring classic oil paintings recreated with a uniquely modern twist.
Within this series, Van Gogh is reimagined, in his famous self-portrait, with a surgical mask hanging jauntily off his ear; Frida Kahlo depicted with two Bored Apes on each shoulder; and Jesus Christ holding aloft a Deliveroo bag, as surrounding crowds reach adoringly for him.
Other pieces simply overlay other artists’ work with their signature dry commentary, such as in Jesus Kick a Puppy—‘I’ve had the sort of day that would make Jesus kick a puppy’—and And Those That Were Seen Dancing—‘and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear’.
In an unexpected turn, The Connor Brothers’ latest collection, the Regression series, is a marked departure from either their classic cover art or pin-up prints. Rather, emerging from the art therapy sessions undertaken by the duo during lockdown, the series features purposefully naive sketches of dinosaurs, skeletons, and various recognisable artworks.
Inspired by 60-second sketches assigned during these therapy sessions, the two decided to develop a series of paintings with a similarly flexible ethos and style, much more stripped down than their previous detailed graphic approach, but similarly paired with pithy text. The fantastical creatures featured range from pterodactyls to rainbow-riding unicorns, inscribed with uniquely a la mode titles like Cancel Culture, Social Media, and Codependency.
Prints by The Connor Brothers can range in price depending on measurements and edition size, but generally fall within the £2,000 to £3,000 category.
I’m Very Much In Love, a 16” x 12” framed print with an edition size of 20 is available from Clarendon Fine Art for £1,995, for example, and is available in a selection of colours. I Give Myself Very Good Advice, meanwhile, with both larger dimensions—39” x 27”—and edition size—25—is available from the same gallery for £3,295.
The artists also produce what they deem ‘original artworks’—mainly copies of prints from their Pulp Fiction and True Fiction collections, recreated by their studio team in oil or acrylic, giclee and silkscreen on canvas. These works can sell for tens of thousands of pounds, with most listed by galleries like West Chelsea Contemporary for between USD$10,700 to $11,110.
The primary source of The Connors Brothers prints internationally is Clarendon Fine Art. However, for UK, LA and Switzerland-based collectors—particularly those interested in original artworks—the primary source will be Maddox Gallery.
The Connors Brothers pieces can also be bought from a range of other commercial galleries, including:
On the secondary market, The Connors Brothers prints are frequently available from auction houses and websites such as Phillips, 1stDibs and Ebay.
Whilst The Connor Brothers have created a lot of buzz within the Contemporary art world - particularly with their mysterious identities and very public reveal - as yet data does not support good investment potential.
At auction houses like Phillips, pieces by The Connor Brothers seem to routinely sell for above their estimate—with one piece from their recent Regression collection selling for 6x its upper estimate of £8,000.
That said, when examining the auction histories, such high profile sales are the exception, not the rule.
On secondary market websites such as Ebay, The Connor Brothers prints can be purchased for the same as or below their original listing price, and are relatively ubiquitous. Limited edition print Extraordinary People, for example, is listed at West Chelsea Contemporary for USD$4,700 (£4,325), yet recently sold on Ebay for just £640. Sharpen My Tongue, similarly, sold on Ebay for just £560, despite being priced at £5,000 at online art brokerage Artsy.
Even at auction, pieces do not always even meet their estimated range–a 2020 print Those Who Say It Cannot Be Done sold recently from Rago Arts and Auction Centre for $100 below its relatively prudent estimate of $800 to $1000. Impossible Parking, an early print from their pulp fiction cover series, performed similarly poorly, selling for just $300 despite a $600 to $800 estimate. Furthermore, many of The Connor Brothers’ original collections are still not entirely sold out on the primary market—a helpful indicator of a print’s investment value.
The reality is, from the available auction data since December 2018, the average hammer price of a Connor Brother’s print at auction has been £1170. How has that changed over time? In 2019 the average hammer price stood at £677. In 2022 the average hammer price to date has been £1278 - a significant increase of 89%. However, within that average a number of artist proofs (AP) have come to market - seventeen in total to date - with an average hammer of £1688. If we remove the APs from the average, that figure drops to £1157 - still an increase of 71%. Of course, given that a quick Google search shows an average retail price well above the average resale value:
The obvious conclusion is that if you are tempted by a Connor Brothers’ print - buy on the secondary market & buy APs or truly limited editions.
The Connor Brothers’ prolific rate of production—frequently reprinting pre-existing pieces, either in larger editions or as aforementioned ‘originals’—all contribute to the weak resale value at auction & the secondary market in general. On forums & in the media much is made of their appropriation of other artists' work.
At the top-end retail price of a Connor Brothers’ print, there are numerous works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Julian Opie & David Hockney to name but a few, that can be had on the secondary market. These are established artists with significant auction history behind them and track records of appreciation in value. For example, the average return on a Damien Hirst print in the last 5 years stands at 57.6% & David Hockney averages a return of 131.8% over that same period.
At these price points, other artists to watch include Invader & STIK. Both of these artists have seen a surge in popularity and corresponding auction performance over the past five years. The average return on a STIK print stands at 149.5% for the period (mid-2017 to mid-2022), with Invader showing a return of 340.6%.
Deciding to purchase a print, however, is not purely a matter of investment potential; if you love The Connor Brothers’ work, a piece by them can be acquired on the secondary market for considerably under retail. It should also be noted that the Connor Brothers are relatively new & over the longer term their work may appreciate given that they are highly active artists.
If you own a Connor Brothers’ print & are looking to sell, we can help you find the right channel to maximise your potential return.
*Data in this report is taken from public auction records.